This was going to be a gruesomely long two weeks, Michael thought, as a flyer with ‘Party Tonight!’ was thrust into his face by one of the scantily dressed women on the square. This was most definitely not what he’d signed up for when he agreed to come on a two-week trip to Athens with the freshman Philosophy class he’d enrolled in. Touring the Parthenon, the Roman Agora and the ancient ruins made his pulse quicken and his mind travel back in time, but the partying that everyone else seemed partial to after the tours, was something that made him feel queasy.
Tonight was humid and the air buzzed with the trebles and basses of songs he didn’t know, so different to the slow, sultry jazz he loved, that had a way of creeping beneath his skin. He plugged in his earphones and the smooth sound of John Coltrane’s saxophone serenaded him with sweet nothings, the sound of the cymbals ringing and the piano jingling making his skin tingle.
There weren’t enough clothes in the small bag of laundry to warrant his visit to the laundromat but he needed an excuse to get away, shuddering as he contemplated another week of tequila shots. After shoving all his washing into the machine, he pulled out his book and began to read. With his head in a book, preferably Dickens or some other Victorian, he was at his happiest.
A small cough.
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He lifted his eyes and noticed the woman sitting opposite him.
He’d had a major crush on her.
She was his classmate in the Philosophy class, although he very much doubted that she even knew he existed. There wasn’t much of a chance anyone could forget her though, not with her long hair, dyed purple on one side and bright red on the other, a stud-piercing on one eyebrow and her intense, kohl-rimmed eyes. The way she looked fascinated him. She was everything he never dared to be: different, outrageous, individual. He could see her eyes scanning the words in the book she was reading (some romance judging by the picture of two fervently entangled bodies on the dust cover). She looked up at him and a spark of recognition flickered in her eyes. Her lips moved but he couldn’t hear a thing.
He yanked the earphones from his ears. “Sorry,” he said, feeling heat rise in his face. “Are you talking to me?” Damn it, he hated feeling shy.
She smiled a warm smile and he focused on her full, soft mouth. What would it feel like to kiss that mouth?
“I said ‘Hi’,” she said, biting her bottom lip. “Michael, isn’t it?”
His stomach churned but whether it was because she knew his name or simply the way she bit her lip, he wasn’t sure. “Yes,” he said. “You’re Lucy, aren’t you?” he blurted, before he could stop himself.
Her bright eyes crinkled up at the sides again. “You have been paying attention in class,” she said. She got up and plopped herself onto the seat next to him. “And there I was thinking you didn’t even know I existed,” she said.
Michael examined his fingernails. Not likely.
She stroked the cover of her book with her fingertips. “What are you listening to?”
“Oh, nothing you’d like,” he said. Stupid, stupid. Why did he say that?
“Hmmm, so nothing I’d like, hey?” she said. “You’re very quick to judge, aren’t you, Michael?” She grabbed one of his earphones and placed it in her own ear, her head cocked to one side as she listened. Michael prepared for the laughter that would follow.
“That’s some slick music.” She looked at him, nodding her head. “I like it.”
He ran his fingers through the stubble of his hair, his mouth dry, his mind blank. “You do?”
“Uh huh,” she said.
They heard a noise outside the laundromat, and saw a man keel forward and vomit on the pavement.
Lucy turned to Michael with an apologetic roll of her shoulders. “Too much partying,” she said, putting her book down on the seat next to him and walking over to the washing machine she was using.
“Tell me about it,” he mumbled.
She glanced back at him over her shoulder. “Let’s just say that I haven’t seen my friend since we got here.”
“You too?” He smiled.
“Why are you in here when you could be out partying?” she asked.
He shrugged. “It’s not my cup of tea,” he said. “How about you?”
She shook her head. “Mine neither.”
“Well at least you’ve got a great pastime,” he said, pointing to her book. “What are you reading, anyway?” he said, and reached for it.
“Don’t!” she cried, charging towards him, a wave of crimson crashing across her face. She grabbed at her book, managing to snag only its dust cover. The book toppled to the floor before them.
They both knelt to pick it up at the same time, their eyes locking above the book. Stamped on the spine was ‘Crime & Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky.’
“Now look what you’ve done,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” he said. He looked up at her, expecting to see an angry face, but instead, her expression was like that of a little girl who’d been caught eating sweets before dinner.
“You’re reading Crime and Punishment,” he said.
“So what if I am?” she said, her expression quickly dissolving into a carefully composed blank canvas.
“Hidden under a romance cover,” Michael said, almost to himself.
“Yeah, what’s it to you?” she said, in a small voice.
Who was this girl with the crazy-coloured hair and a hidden copy of Dostoevsky in her hands, her dark eyes carefully guarded now?
“How about we discuss it over dinner?” he heard himself say. “My treat.”
Lucy hesitated for a second. “I’d like that.”
And even without his earphones, Michael could swear John Coltrane’s saxophone surrounded them both, as sexy and silky as ever.